Review: Michelle Magorian celebrates the 30th anniversary of ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’

Goodnight Mr Tom must be one of the few books which hasn’t had all the joy sucked out of it by being on the school curriculum. And Michelle Magorian must be one of the few authors at Hay who stood up and sang to her audience.

She talked about how Goodnight Mr Tom has really taken on a life of it’s own over the past thirty years, being endlessly stretched and transformed and turned inside out in different art forms. As well as being one of the most successful and enduring books Puffin has published, it is also a musical, stage play, radio play – and most famously, of course, an ITV drama with John Thaw in the title role. Far from being precious about ‘her’ story being lost, Magorian was positively enthusiastic about the opportunities to explore different themes and ideas within the story. For example, Willie’s mum is a much more prominent character in the musical – and Magorian sang one of the character’s songs (which she wrote – she is seriously multi-talented).

Magorian trained as an actress – and it showed in an absolutely gripping reading, with not only the voices but also the faces of her characters. And in possibly the most unlikely literary inspiration in history, it turned out that Goodnight Mr Tom was inspired by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Specifically, Magorian planned to write stories based on all the pairs of colours, and ‘green and brown’ turned into Goodnight Mr Tom. Well, if this is green and brown, I’d love to read ruby and orange and violet and fawn.

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